Worthington Whittredge


Worthington Whittredge’'s long and successful career encompassed a range of stylistic investigations. Born in Springfield, Ohio, he showed no particular aptitude for art as a child. His interest in art seems to have been encouraged by his brother-in-law Almon Baldwin, a house and sign painter turned portraitist and landscape painter. Whittredge apprenticed himself to Baldwin in 1837 and began painting houses and signs. Describing his sign painting career, Whittredge noted how: "After I had obtained a minimal proficiency in forming letters I was put on a ladder thirty feet high to paint `“Porkhouse”' on the side of a wall. This employment was soon dropped; I was getting to be an artist." ("Worthington Whittredge, The Autobiography of Worthington Whittredge", ed. John Baur, New York: Brooklyn Museum of Art, 1942, p. 13).

Whittredge showed a special interest in landscape and exhibited three landscapes at the 1839 inaugural exhibition of the Cincinnati Academy of Fine Arts. During the second half of the nineteenth century Cincinnati was regarded as a major artistic center and referred to as the “Athens of the West.” Despite his exposure at the Academy exhibitions, Whittredge was in dire financial straits during the late 1830s and early 1840s. He continued to exhibit, and his work was included at the National Academy of Design in 1846 where Asher B. Durand took special note of his submission.

Fortunately for Whittredge, the Western Art Union, an analogue to the American Art Union, was formed in Cincinnati in 1847 and provided a significant outlet for his work. Despite his rising fortunes, by 1849 the artist felt the need to study abroad. Financing his trip through commissions, he left for Paris that year. He remained in Paris for a short time, but was ultimately unprepared for that city’s cosmopolitan environment. He opted instead to leave for Dusseldorf, Germany.

"Scene on the Juniata" was created in 1848, three years after Whittredge began to devote his full attention to landscape painting. The work was distributed by the American Art-Union in New York and was unlocated until recently. The organization, which was founded in 1838, used membership dues to purchase a number of works from its regular exhibitions. Members had the opportunity to win the purchased paintings through a lottery; Scene on the Juniata was won by J. Colburn of Leominster, Massachusetts. A description of the work appeared in the art-union catalogue: " A Ferry Scene. A raft or flat boat is transporting cattle across a broad stream. At the landing on the left a man with a horse and dog are waiting to pass over. In the distance are hills, and a little way above the landing on the other side is a forge, the smoke of which is seen." (Quoted in Mary Bartlett Cowdrey, American Academy of Fine Arts and American Art Union, Exhibition Record, 1816-1852, New York: The New-York Historical Society, 1953, volume 2, p. 397).

The Juniata River is located in central Pennsylvania and runs from near Black Log Mountain to Mahanoy Ridge. It is in the vicinity of the Tuscarora Mountains, Shade Mountain, Jacks Mountain, Stone Mountain and Buffalo Mountain. Whittredge
executed at least one other view of the Juniata in the late 1840s (private collection). A label on the reverse informs us that the picture frame was designed by the firm of Tracy Newkirk, which during the years 1848 to 1849 was located at 118 Grand Street in New York.

Under the sway of the American Art-Union, Whittredge gave the flatboatmen and landscape equal prominence in the composition; the Juniata and the surrounding Lackawanna Valley are pictured as a thriving center of settlement and commerce. The art-union played a major role in encouraging interest in American genre and landscape painting and announced as early as 1843 that “the largest part of the works [exhibited in the current exhibition are] illustrative of American scenery and American manners” (quoted in Charles E. Baker, “The American Art Union,” in Mary Bartlett Cowdrey, The American Academy of Fine Arts and American Art Union, volume 1, p. 152). In 1908, Whittredge published an article about the American Art-Union in which he noted how previous to the organization “that class of work generally known as ‘genre,’ the most natural and expressive way of recording the manners and customs of a people, had been almost entirely neglected. It was the Union that gave impetus to this class of work” (“The American Art Union,” The Magazine of History, volume 7, February 1908, p. 66).

Several of Whittredge’'s early landscapes include depictions of frontier life, especially his pictures featuring views along rivers in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. Anthony Janson has noted that such elements “reflect the influence of contemporary genre paintings by Charles Deas and William Ranney of frontiersmen in true landscapes” (Anthony F. Janson, "Worthington Whittredge", Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989, p. 31). Undoubtedly "Scene on the Juanita" was inspired by George Caleb Bingham’'s "The Jolly Flatboatmen" (1846, Manoogian Collection), which became famous throughout America as a result of the American Art-Union's publication in 1847 of an etching after this first version of the painting.

In Cincinnati, Whittredge had the opportunity to study works by many of the leading Hudson River School landscape painters as well as the 17th century Dutch pictures in the collection of Nicholas Longworth.

During the mid-1840s he was influenced at different times by such native artists as Thomas Doughty, Thomas Cole, Asher B. Durand, and his Ohio associate William Sonntag. In "Scene on the Juanita", he adopts the optimistic and topographical approach of Durand, who after Cole’'s death in 1848 assumed the “leadership” of the Hudson River School. Following Durand’s example, Whittredge recently began to sketch outdoors and to incorporate a feeling of plein-air into his easel paintings. As in other works of the period, Whittredge includes a group of exceedingly tall and narrow trees, places a group of mountains in the lower center of the composition, and in order to draw the eye into the composition places an element on a diagonal axis in the center foreground.